Being a Non-Drinker

At the start let me say, I’m NOT a “recovering alcoholic non-drinker,” nor someone who avoids alcohol for religious reasons. I once had two beers at a restaurant at the urging of a friend, and on another occasion had one sip of red wine which I almost ejected across the room. I didn’t have any bad experiences with alcohol growing up either, but I was exposed to it. My father would have an occasional beer during the week and sometimes a little whiskey on the weekend, but he rarely got drunk, and when he did he was a happy drunk.

It’s one thing to be a recovering alcoholic, or have religious reasons against it — people can respect and sympathize with those reasons for abstaining. But to have never started drinking and have no desire to do so? That raises eyebrows, can be socially isolating and some people even get offended. They act like I’m standing in judgement of them, when I’m not at all. This is just the choice I’ve made for me, not for them.

I work in a nightclub (we don’t serve alcohol) and I’m around drunk people (and people on worse things) but I’m use to it. Some drunks can be amusing, you even run into a hilarious one on occasion. But then you have the ones who can’t hold their liquor and puke. I don’t like that I’ve started very interesting conversations with total strangers that quickly went downhill once the alcohol started flowing. But the vast majority cause no problems; they’re just out to have a good time, let loose and relax. I’m all for it.

Still, I’m glad I don’t drink for a number of reasons I probably take for granted as a non-drinker.

–It’s expensive for one thing. My budget is tight enough, and I don’t want to try and fit alcohol into it as well. The idea of blowing an extra $20-30 every weekend at a bar on something that’s literally going down the toilet is too much. I cringe when I’m hear the cost of some drinks (plus a tip of course). Does that drink come with a new car? Years ago I would drive home a buddy who sometimes racked up $80 on his tab in one night, for himself alone, and that was usually on a week night!

–It doesn’t jive with my long-term health and fitness goals. I try to take care of myself and beer is just another example of drinking empty calories. It’s essentially liquid carbs. It’s just one less thing I need not worry about avoiding. Then there’s hangovers. After a big night you feel like crap, your body has been put through the ringer and needs time to recover. Not much motivation to exercise right after that. Not even to go on about the harm it can do long-term.

But ya know, the big secret is I don’t _really_ avoid alcohol because of these well-thought-out reasons. I just don’t like the taste and never have. It’s a natural aversion I never took the time to overcome. And I’ve never thought an “alcohol buffer” or escape from my problems would do anything to fix them.

I don’t smoke or do drugs either, but I hate to sound high horse about it. I’m not trying to — it’s just me. I understand some people enjoy it, and good for them, I enjoy jazz, ham sandwiches and walks at 3am. It doesn’t need to be personal, I don’t judge people who can enjoy it and keep composure. So when someone says they don’t drink, don’t assume they feel superior.

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Why I’m NOT Switching From XP to Linux

It sometimes takes an outside force to spur action. Necessity is the mother of invention and all of that? Everyone has heard I suppose about the end of Microsoft’s support for Windows XP. Well, let me start off by saying that I went to college and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems and Technology, however all of my computers still run XP! If a piece of technology does what I need, I don’t buy the latest thing, and XP works fine for my needs.  I purchased my main desktop refurbished back in mid-2006 and other than adding RAM and re-installing Windows every few years, it still works great!

But I decided it was time to finally give Linux a try, it’s free, lots of people praise it, and I had a reason to try it out.

I consider myself computer savvy, but I don’t like to devote a lot of time to tinkering and reading message boards for help every time I want to do something. And while looking into Linux I was spending more time reading message boards than actually using the OS!  I know it takes time to get things set up properly, sometimes you have to type code into a terminal, I’m not afraid of that. But these programs just don’t deliver what I need.

First there’s the word processors. I like to read on the computer in MS Word so I can make notes, make the background any color I want, etc. But none of the word processors I’ve tried do full screen mode how I want.

For example, the most advanced one, LibreOffice does full screen of course, but leaves an annoying “idiot box” which only exists to help you “escape” from full screen. As if I didn’t know how to push the damn Esc button! A simple macro in MS Word removes this permanently, but the best minds out there can’t get rid of this thing in Linux. All I want is flowing text, no toolbars, idiot boxes or scroll bars.  Speaking of scrolling, LibreOffice doesn’t scroll correctly either. I like a seamless reading experience where I push Page Down and can keep reading. Hit “Page Down” in LibreOffice and it will go down a whole page the first time, but the cursor is left in the middle of the page, so the next time you hit “Page Down” it will go down about half a page unless you move the cursor first!

These sorts of problems (and more) plagued every other word processor I tried. For some who reads for hours on the computer, this just isn’t acceptable.

Then there were the comic book readers. I don’t read comics that often, but I do occasionally, and I like to do a full screen and I like the zoom function to be easily activated so I can zoom in or out to see each panel. On CDisplayEX (unavailable for Linux) I can push Ctrl and just roll the mouse wheel and easily zoom in and out. Fairly easy. On Comic Rack (unavailable for Linux) it’s even easier, just push down the mouse wheel and move the mouse down to zoom in, up to zoom out. Everything I tried on Linux would only zoom in by pushing Ctrl and + or -. For someone who likes to zoom in and see each panel, this is a major hassle to hunt down, especially in low-light situations (which is how I like to read comics).

I final problem I had was with media players. I’m use to using Foobar (unavailable for Linux), the best, non-bloated media player in the world. I can have as many playlists open at once as I want; one for Jazz, another for Classical, etc. It doesn’t waste resources pulling up pictures of the album cover, or advertising pop artists to me that I don’t care about. It easily plays .flac and .ape files, will save all my playlists and settings easily, has a great built in equalizer and a ton of options you can tweak. None of the players in Linux came even close to delivering the same level of experience.

I was excited about Linux, I believed it really could do everything I wanted, because my needs are pretty simple, I’m not playing super-advanced games or processing video or using Photoshop! All I do on a computer is read, surf the internet and listen to music!  I’m sorry, but these programs just aren’t as powerful, well-thought out, nor do they offer as many options as those widely available for Windows.  I’m open to new experiences, even a new OS, but I don’t want a worse one.

I can afford another laptop, but for now I’m planning to just secure XP as much as I can, and get another one if I get overrun with viruses. On a side note, I think considering the resources required, XP is the best operating system Microsoft ever put out. Everything since has used far more resources to pretty much deliver the exact same result.

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Reading books vs. eBooks

About nine months ago I did something I never thought I’d do, and I mean never: I started reading eBooks. Since then I’ve read 22 novels and 98 short stories in eBook format…and 2 paper books.

They have their advantages. For one thing they take up a lot less room. This is coming from someone with 6 bookcases full of books — (far) too many, and frankly too many possessions has started to feel like a burden to me over the last few years as I’ve become more “minimalist.” It makes it harder to remain mobile and I’d rather have money in the bank than a lot of stuff that feels burdensome.

I’ve downloaded over 5,000 eBooks (which easily fit on a $5 thumb drive two times over). I can duplicate the whole collection and safely store it somewhere else in a matter of minutes — try that with 5,000 paper books. Most are in the public domain and were free on Gutenberg.org, and while it’s true that most eBooks cost more than _used_ paper books, that depends on where you get your eBooks [cough, ahem, cough.]  I don’t advocate piracy necessarily, but I’ve been able to find a lot of stuff online that I could never afford or just isn’t available, even if it is old enough to be public domain.

Another advantage is the opportunities ebooks bring. I’m able to find a lot of obscure things like old pulp magazine stories which would be virtually impossible to find in print form outside of some anthologies. The same goes for anything obscure, like old novels which never gained “classic” status. Plus, I can find books online, download and start reading them immediately rather than waiting for a mail shipment. (Of course, there’s no bookstores left near me.)

Something as simple as not needing to hold a book open, or turn pages, or reach for a pencil to make notes is a BIG advantage for someone like me who will read for 8+ hours some days. When I want to add notes or summarize a chapter, or mark something especially interesting I put a symbol beside my notes and to find them later I just do a Ctrl+F search for the symbol. Try doing that with an 800 page paper book. That’s a real task.

There’s other little advantages too. I like to play around with the fonts — sometimes if I’m reading a hard-boiled pulp story, I will change the text to something like old fashioned newspaper text you might expect to see in a 50’s pulp novel. Sometimes I like larger font, sometimes smaller.

The only bad thing about eBooks is that I’m using it on a device where I have the distraction of the internet. Real books don’t need to be charged or plugged in.

Despite my love for eBooks, I have no intention of actually buying an eReader. I just put my book in MS Word in full screen and make the background gray or brown to cut down in eyestrain. In fact I think I prefer the laptop to most eReaders I’ve used because I can back up my books myself, they’re in an easily manipulated, non-DRM format, and I don’t have to use a terrible on-screen keyboard if I want to make notes.

I have to say, I do worry about the future of real, paper books when even I have started using eBooks. When even I have started reading eBooks, that’s saying something.

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I Can Afford a Vacation, But My Life Won’t Let Me!

Everyone I know and work with talks about and fantasizes about their ideal vacation. One wants to go on a $3,000, 2-week train ride across the American West. Other’s have more “conventional” ideas — theme parks, going to the beach, etc.

What I want to do is a bit more complicated, yet simple. I want to take 2 months off from work, June-July and rent a cheap room in Dallas, Georgia close to the Silver Comet Trail. All I want to do is spend two months riding the trail, spend the evenings reading and catching up on symphonies I’ve wanted to hear for years but haven’t found the time for. That’s it. I figure I could do this for around $2,000…

Rent: $500/month
Food: $200/month
Incidentals: $300/month

I grew up in Dallas, Georgia and the Silver Comet Trail is a very special place to me. I’ve literally told my partner that I want my ashes scattered there.

Image

I have many memories invested in that place. Maybe after two months I’d get tired of it? Well good, that means I’ll have gotten it out of my system.

This is a place that draws me like a magnet. I could stay with my parents (they’re fairly close to the trail) and pay them rent (if they’d accept it) but I really don’t want to be “underfoot.” I’d like my own place.

I’m use to living simply, and this would be a simple vacation. Renting a room in Dallas is cheap; $200/month is more than what I spend on food now. My only other monthly expenses are a $15 cell phone, $40~ car insurance, $57 health insurance and gas for my car. That leaves plenty for possible bike repairs and other unknowns.

I have $2,000, I’m not bragging, but I have way more than that saved. Of course, $2,000 is a lot of money, but to me this would just make my whole year. I like my job, but for years now I’ve lived a totally nocturnal life in a city I don’t like. I go to bed at 10am and rarely getting up before 6pm. When I’m awake there’s nothing to do, all I do is work, eat, sleep, save money and workout. Last year I had one week off all year. At some point you have to ask yourself, what’s the point?

As far as losing two months pay, I’ve made my peace with that. I can afford to lose that and the $2,000 the vacation would cost me. But some things you just can’t put a price on. Life. Sanity.

The problem of course isn’t money; it’s that no one takes 2 months off. “Summer” is only a verb for the wealthy. The problem is that I work at a very small business where there’s only one other person to do my job, and they’re not always available, and my leaving would cause other complications. I’m pretty sure I could get 2 weeks in a row…maybe 3, I doubt it. I just hate having the money to afford something, yet I’m locked in a situation that doesn’t let me do what I want with it. I’d literally have to quit my job to do this. What’s the point of money if I can’t spend it how I want?

Everyone tells me they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they had more than one week off. To me that’s a very American reaction, my job isn’t my life, I work to live, not vice versa. I guess I’m more capable of entertaining myself, I’ve got way too much reading and music to catch up on.

Well, until I get my dream vacation, I’ve managed to get one week off, the first week of next month in fact. Combined with Monday-Wednesday I usually have off, that’s ten days. Well, it’s something at least.

If there’s anyone out in Dallas, Georgia with a little room to rent to a quiet young man for $500/month, lemme know!

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The Futility of Trying to Recapture Past Life Moments

Sometimes I think about parallel universes because I wonder what I’d be doing in them if I’d made different life choices.

I grew up in the small town of Dallas, Georgia. I graduated from college in 2004, but before I moved to Atlanta I never really found a good job, I was mostly working retail jobs that made me hate life. I moved to Atlanta in 2006 and since then I’ve done a little of this and that, but since 2010 I’ve been working at a nightclub and enjoy it.

But I wonder if there’s a parallel universe somewhere where I never left Dallas. I wonder what I’d be doing. Probably working in retail somewhere, questioning why I ever went to college and generally being depressed. In some parallel universe maybe I am doing that, and miserable as hell. Or who knows, maybe the misery of it would forced me to find something great? Hard to say. I know one thing, I’d be sexually frustrated, finding guys out there is nearly impossible. Maybe I would have gone straight and gotten a girlfriend…nah. That would have to be in another dimension. I might be overweight, when I visit Dallas I’m surprised how many people are. I don’t discount the influence of environment on the individual.

I wonder what kind of person I’d be if I hadn’t gone to college. Would I read as much as I do? I rarely did before college, now I consider it the only activity that doesn’t eventually feel like a waste of time. College opened me up to a lot of things and I felt I grew as a person. Would I listen to classical music or would I still be listening to rock? Would I be a Christian or an atheist?

Sometimes I miss college so much it hurts. I never went to parties or sporting events, I just loved the atmosphere of it. I liked learning, finding out about myself. You don’t always know what you like until you’re exposed to it. College was a stressful time, but I look back on it now as the best time of my life. Living and working a regular job can just feel so…stagnant by comparison. For a couple years afterward I thought of returning to college, but I know I’d just trying to relive the experience, and that’s not possible anyway.

Times of our lives come and go, and trying to relive them often seems like a futile effort because the places we experienced have changed, we have changed, and on a more subtle level we’re in a different life stage than the first time we lived it.

It’s better to make new experiences anyway.

But hey, maybe in some parallel universe I’m a perpetual student who just finds the means to stay in college forever. God, what a thought.

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“Sunlight…How Quaint.”

I got up today at 6pm like I usually do on Sundays so I can exercise, shower, eat and have the club open by 8pm. Well I was downright amazed when I looked outside, the world was filled with this bright stuff people call…I forget since I never see it. Oh yeah, sunlight.

When I looked outside I actually said to myself, “Sunlight, how quaint.”

(If you’re confused, I work at a nightclub until 7am four nights a week, and sleep here; by the time I get to bed it might be 10 or 11am. I then sleep till around 7pm most days, so yes I get the obligatory eight hours of sleep, sometimes even more.)

Sunlight almost feels like something I’ve “outgrown,” put aside. It’s like a cute extracurricular activity. It’s something you can forget about under the right conditions. Then you see it and realize how important it is.

So I went outside to water a plant, just to have an excuse to go out into it and ran into a friend who was walking by. I said to him, “Sunlight is precious; you have no idea until you’re never around it.” He just gave me a look and asked if I could help him find someone.

People up in the daytime really are ignorant when it comes to this. They don’t understand in the least. They would have to go blind for a day to even begin to comprehend something they so take for granted.

Funny thing is, I’m enjoying life a lot right now. I really love my job. How many jobs pay you well to do nothing 80% of the time and will let you sleep there so you don’t even have to drive home? We have a very easy going atmosphere, I have a three day weekend. I know most alternatives would be much worse.

All I would ask is next time you go to a nightclub that’s open till 5 or 6am, remember that those employees are sleeping all day so they can get enough sleep to live a healthy life. And remember that for some of us, we see nothing but night often for six months out of the year.

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How I Found Classical Music, Despite Growing Up in Redneckville

I wonder how a guy from the country like me came to be so interested in classical music (primarily 20th century modern classical). I never heard it growing up, ever. I knew no one who listened to it and I wasn’t encouraged by anyone I knew, including my own family (my father, who don’t get me wrong, is an intelligent man, called it “elevator music”). There was no internet yet, and there weren’t any stores near me that sold it. The only place to hear it was on a scratchy NPR station on my bedside clock radio, and very rarely would you hear anything remotely modern there.

When I was about 12 I recall a friend of my father’s (a blue collar guy who hunted deer like all his buddies) told everyone he had gotten into opera. People made fun of him, for a couple weeks I recall, probably including myself at the time.

In my teenage years I listened to pop and rock like most teenagers. But at some point I realized, unconsciously at first, that verse-chorus wasn’t enough anymore. I’m still sick of the traditional verse-chorus song structure, and guitars and drums are pretty limited in color and scope too.

When I was about 18-19 I starting buying those (mostly terrible) “best of” classical CD’s you see in most big box stores. “Best of Mozart,” “Best of Chopin,” etc. Recordings by unknown performers and conductors, often collections of mere parts of larger works, but I do think at the time they exposed me to the music. Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” was an early favorite.

I recall my first year of college (’99) I was walking through a Borders bookstore (R.I.P.) and not even looking at the CD’s when my eye happened upon a copy of Mahler’s 6th “Tragic.” I even recall the CD, later purchased, it was Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Up to that point I was so little exposed to modern classical music I had no idea classical could be “tragic.” Certainly you wouldn’t get that impression listening to the “best of” Mozart or Vivaldi!

That first year of college was also my first year on the internet. I spent a lot of money on music as most people do at that age. I was impressed by Mahler, and I wanted to find more of this dark/serious classical music and the internet led the way. I recall buying the symphonies of Rachmaninov, Sibelius and the last three of Tchaikovsky all in one day, from 2 different stores (both R.I.P. now).

Eventually I would discover Shostakovich, Pettersson, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, Bax and other late-romantic and 20th century composers. I was home.  Here was music of complexity and deep emotion.  Durable music that could be heard over and over which always reveals something new.

Of course now with YouTube, iTunes (and file sharing sites) if you have an internet connection and a smidgen of computer knowledge you can find almost anything that’s been recorded. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to this music. I feel fortunate to live in a time when we have recorded music at all. Being able to listen to music in pristine sound quality cheaply and at home is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Backing up thousands of CDs on a hard drive no larger than your average paperback novel is even more recent.

I think some people just have a natural tendency toward classical. I think this has to be the case with me, given the odds against it happening. I could be listening to Travis Tritt right now like most people from Paulding County Georgia, but I’m not. Because of this I really consider classical music to be “mine” in the same way someone will consider something to be theirs which they acquired through hard work.

The bias against classical music comes from a few areas. It has a reputation of cultural elitism, which in America is one of the worst things you can be perceived as. If someone is rich, but a “man of the people” that’s OK. That’s why a presidential candidate will never talk about his love for Beethoven, and that’s why many subway terminals play classical music to keep “certain people” from hanging around — and it works. It also has to do with American culture’s focus on practicality; because classical music just isn’t profitable in a monetary sense it’s looked down upon and not promoted. And by the time people are finished with their day, they usually want some light entertainment, I understand.

The music you listen to says a lot about you. I recall reading a study of personality traits linked with different musical genres, and how these traits cross national and ethnic lines. [1]

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1. http://psychcentral.com/lib/preferred-music-style-is-tied-to-personality/0001438

My “music personality test” results:

http://www.outofservice.com/music-personality-test/results/?complex=83.74&edgy=53.58&fun=0.21&energetic=0.6

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My Favorite 20th Century String Quartet Cycles, Part 2

Gian Francesco Malipiero

Malipiero wrote eight quartets of notable consistency and quality. This is a fascinating cycle of quartets, but it’s unlike any other I’ve heard when it comes to trying to analyze these works. This music is anthematic, song-like and intensely lyrical. It certainly has recurring themes throughout, but it follows no easily deciphered forms like sonata form or “theme and variation” form. Motifs do recur but the overall _flow_ is what moves the music, not the motifs themselves. Nothing stays around too long, fast and slow sections alternate and lead into one another, the material is constantly morphing, organically bringing forth variations or fragments of themes, and often flowering new material seemingly out of nowhere. My favorites would be the first, third, fifth and sixth. The overall tone or mood reminds me very much of Villa-Lobos; it has that chipper, nimble, polyphonic quality and overall sunny mood. Repeated listens would help in appreciating these free-flowing works, and sometimes it’s easier to follow recurring beat patterns rather than looking for familiar themes.

Ernst Krenek

Krenek wrote eight, but I found the cycle not very consistent. I enjoyed most of these quartets, and they’re challenging listening at times. I would consider the early quartets to be the best, and the 2nd to be the most interesting of all. The final quartet unfortunately didn’t hold my interest in the least.

The first is a very impressive first quartet, very much a series of variations of the opening theme. There’s plenty of variety here, lots of fugal moments and quite a bit of dense polyphony. The musical variety is vast, but the mood doesn’t change quite as much. The second quartet; my GOD what a crazy piece of music this is. It feels like he’s really pushing the boundaries here, a very intense work, has to be heard to be believed. All three movements have moments of wild, crazy tension and thick counterpoint that just made me say, “DAMN!” There’s a lot going on, lots of variety, but what’s so impressive is the counterpoint. This is edgy music, it always threatens to surge up and out of control. Krenek takes a theme, variations ensue, and then he pushes it to strained, shrill, swirling heights. The third quartet is a decent work, but it’s not as entertaining as the first two. The slow movements in particular can just drift and feel elusive. The fourth quartet is an improvement over the third, but can’t equal the interest of the first two. Here we get seven movements, the first and last are quite good, the third is good, but doesn’t really go anywhere.

The fifth is one of his best. It has a coherence about it that’s impressive and it’s quite complex as well. It’s easy to get lost in the material, and you know what you’re hearing relates to the opening material, but you’re not always sure how. At the same time it’s never dry and pedantic, but beautiful, exciting and interesting throughout. The sixth is a fairly atonal work, emotionally elusive, colorful but not one I’d rush to revisit. The fast movements are full of quirky, disjointed fragments that somehow create thick polyphony; the long adagio is more spare, and simple. The seventh is a lot like the sixth, elusive, nothing here really catches or excites me. The eighth was commissioned by the NEA, and I really don’t think they got their money’s worth. This quartet is more dissonant, experimental, avant-garde, and is my least favorite by far. I had to force myself to sit through it. I just never develops, it’s more concerned with throwing phrases out, some weird effects, then stopping on a dime.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Shostakovich wrote fifteen quartets, what has been called one of the best quartet cycles of the 20th century. I’ve been listening to these works on and off for the last decade or so. My favorites of this cycle would be 3, 5, 7, 8 and 13, and none of them leave me cold or disinterested. Shostakovich was quite talented in writing heart-achingly sad music, and this is showcased very well in his chamber works. As this cycle goes along it tends to get darker, and the final three quartets in particular are brooding, dark, and increasingly introspective. The fast movements of these works are rarely meant to dazzle, such as is found in the frenzied, dense quartets of Robert Simpson, but these have more memorable melodies and themes. They also contain a sardonic, ironic wit to them and a very clear, communicative emotional language.

The first quartet is a decent start, but isn’t anything special and lacks the depth that would show up in later works. With the second quartet Shostakovich really did himself in, it’s one of the longest in the cycle full of rewarding, memorable moments, lots of passion, emotion and variation. The third is very memorable for its increasingly feisty movements, and then it’s final, despairing ones. The fourth has moments which aren’t exactly elusive, but are a bit ambiguous. The second movement however is quite emotive and the finale has a little of everything. The fifth is a really great work. The first movement has a lot going on with three themes to keep up with. The finale really ties everything together however.

The sixth isn’t a flashy work; it’s purposeful, lyrical and emotional. The third movement in particular packs quite a punch. The seventh is a short, playful work, performed in about 12 minutes and is full of memorable material. I’d say this is a good introduction to his chamber works. The eighth is one of his most popular works and perhaps the best-known quartet of the last century. That’s saying something considering the work is incredibly depressing and literally leaves no light at the end. I think its appeal is that it’s such an emotionally draining ride and easy to clue into. The ninth has a lot of good, catchy, memorable material and contains some of his best fast quartet writing. The final movement is lengthy and explosive. The tenth is one of Shostakovich’s most good-humored quartets. This isn’t one of his better-known and it can be somewhat emotionally ambiguous at times but it offers much of interest, and like the 7th quartet I would say this is also a good introduction to his quartets.

The eleventh is a fun work in seven movements; it can feel like little develops at times because the movements are so short. The twelfth has a final movement which offers some of Shostakovich’s most dense, complex quartet writing and is certainly impressive for that alone. I think this is certainly one of the more difficult quartets and one would take some warming up to, but I like it. The thirteenth is in one movement and follows an ABCBA format with a coda and is pretty easy to follow, but is abrasive and elusive on its face. This is certainly one of his darkest works and I think it’s been among my favorites since I first heard it. The fourteenth is dedicated to a cellist and features the cello prominently throughout. Complex, but not abrasive like the one’s before and after it. The final quartet is a very dark work, some parts of this are so dark they somehow feel “unsafe” as if they reveal too much about death. This music can really sneak up on you because there’s just so much anguish here. The music is usually spare, austere. The first and last movements are impressive, the first for its emotion, the last for its variety. The middle movements are all a bit more quirky.

Silvestre Revueltas

This is a short cycle of four quartets which are about 10, 11, 13 and 9 minutes each respectively.  They fit easily on one CD, with lots of room to spare! These are brief but “full” works, full of variety and color, very fluid in changing tempo and mood and have a definite feel similar to the quartets of Villa-Lobos. Themes often have two sections, a stark first part and a longer, more lyrical tail. These works require focus, there are some great moments but they’re often gone in the blink of an eye. It’s a shame he didn’t write more, with the last two it becomes apparent he has really gotten a good hold on the form.

The first definitely recalls Villa-Lobos to mind and is colorful and interesting throughout its brief 10 minutes, but isn’t overly memorable. The second is colorful, but like the first, this is a brief piece, and I’m not entirely sure I “get it” at times. It has some complexity to it and density, but it usually shifts between tempo before getting too deep. The third is the longest of the quartets at about 13 minutes and he makes use of every moment. There’s a lot of variety; the first movement is quick and fiery, but with time for slowness. The second is dark and mysterious, and the finale is the best, beginning fast but ultimately bringing some of the most beautiful slow music found in these quartets. The fourth is a great work in my opinion; I just wish Revueltas had written more. This also contains some very beautiful music. I think I liked the third just a bit better, but with these two it feels like he finally got a handle on the form.

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I Miss the Country

–I miss stacking firewood on the porch on a cool winter evening under the final, slanting rays of the dying sun descending into the bare, skeletal trees that looks like a mass of fire. Looking at a big stack of firewood can make one feel rich, in a deep, personal sense.

–I miss driving and instead of being surrounded by concrete and asphalt and caricatures of nature, I’m actually huddled in by trees and nature with an untamed sense to it. I like occasionally see an old barn, an open field or some horses.

–I miss big open places where you can walk and hear nothing.

–I miss hearing about deer season or local news that would seem so inconsequential to an Atlantan, but is a big deal to the locals.

–I miss taking the bike out on the Silver Comet Trail on a hot summer afternoon, stopping for a break and watching the sun set, but knowing I had plenty of time to get back.

–I miss those hot summer days when my mother would boil a big pot of collard greens and have the front and back doors open, yet the house still smelled like collards.

–I miss autumn days when the leaves start to turn, the air is cooler and fall festivals begin.

–I even miss stupid stuff like seeing jacked-up redneck trucks covered in mud and cars with “happy graduation” written on their rear windows.

I grew up in a fairly rural area, but I’ve lived in Atlanta now for 8 years. I’m now 34 years old. I really don’t want to still be here when I’m 40. When I really start to think about it I feel like I’m wasting my life here. By most standards I’m doing OK; I’ve got a job I love, more money than I’ve ever had and I’m pretty happy overall; but I just can’t convince myself that my surroundings are conducive to that happiness. My happiness feels like it exists INSPITE of my surroundings.

Of course there’s more to do in Atlanta than in the country, but I’ve found that I go out far less living here. At this point I don’t go anywhere. I’m at one of three places; my job, home or once a week at the grocery store for about 30 minutes. Working at a club I probably get enough socializing there. First of all you have to have money to have fun in the city. But second, I find traffic and the general hubub of the city is a deterrent for me to get out at all. I still don’t know my way around Atlanta, and I don’t want to.

I find myself largely surrounded by people who seem not to care if they ever see a tree, bush or single blade of grass. Most people I know here feel they’ve “escaped” from the country or have moved here from other cities and don’t understand it’s charms. Of course maybe I forgot to mention they’re all gay men like myself, yeah if you’ve read this far, I just came out. Gay men escape from the country, they don’t live in it. But the country is something that gets in your blood, or it just doesn’t. I surely thought when I moved here that I’d never want to go back, but that’s not true. I feel a near-magnetic, nostalgic pull that really makes my life feel incomplete.

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Growing up in a Drafty Old House and Other Winter Thoughts

I think part of my aversion to cold comes from the move our family did when I was ten. We moved to the country (about an hour away from our first house) and my parents set about remodeling an old house. The house was nice, but it was only partially heated, and a bit drafty. And that first winter was rough. At night I would literally have a pile of covers on myself. Quilts, blankets and an afghan on top, most of which my grandmother made.

I remember in storybook fashion imagining tendrils and wisps of cold making their way through the cracks in the house where they could, and coming straight for me. They would creep through the darkness and try to get in some place I left uncovered, or perhaps between the blanket and the bed. Mom would roll up a towel to put at the base of the doors, because you could feel cold air creeping under it. The same goes for some of the windows. But you couldn’t cover all the cracks.

We had a wood-burning stove in the living room and before bed I’d hold a blanket as close to it as I could without setting it on fire, then bundle it up to hold the heat and hurry to bed. Later Mom found what I guess you could call a “heat rock”. Essentially it was a black rock shaped like a large book, about 6″ wide, 10″ tall and about 1″ thick with a handle. Lay that puppy under the stove in the morning and wrap it in a blanket before bed — it would stay warm for hours and hours.

Getting out of bed was a chore, I’d rush to the stove and hope someone had built a fire, or to the wall-mounted gas heater in the hall. If neither of these was an option you had to throw clothes on fast.

Then I had something about hats as a kid, I hated them. So waiting for the school bus my ears and nose usually went completely numb. That one’s on me.

Since I started shaving my head in 2003 I always have a toboggan around in the winter (people from other regions call them knit caps, beanies, whatever). Finding really thick ones is more challenging than you might think. I’ve had the most luck at hunting supply stores where it’s more about practical warmth than style.

The old house isn’t drafty anymore, but my father is so warm-natured that the last time I visited my parents the thermostat was set to 63°! I don’t know how that’s considered comfortable. I took a space heater and kept it about 75-80° in my room.

Then there was the cabin. In the early/mid-90’s my parents bought about 45 acres in the north Georgia mountains and got the idea of building a cabin on it…by themselves. So for a couple years we would go up there and camp, they would work on the cabin and I mostly kept an eye on my little sister. It’s a nice retreat now, has all the comforts of home (Dad refuses to put in a phone however.) But I’ll never forget how cold it was waking up in a tent some mornings, and trying to build a fire so I could warm one side of myself at a time. Of course we didn’t work on it in the dead of winter, but it got pretty cold at before bed and in the morning.

So I just don’t like being cold. I’m a lean guy with low body fat. Now days I do all I can to mitigate it. As an adult I can retreat to my small office with a space heater and get it as hot in there as I want, it’s no one’s business but mine, thank you very much.

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